Humor is a powerful content marketing tactic. It can connect with your target audience, and influence choices and decisions in magical ways. Creating a positive emotional connection is goal for us content marketers.
But let’s face it. There is a big risk when you use humor in your marketing strategy. Comedy can backfire if not executed wisely. And it can even create a firestorm on social media that can tarnish your brand long after you publish the wrong content to the wrong people at the wrong time. Who wants to take on that risk, right?
Tread Lightly Into Humorous Waters
Several years ago, discount retailer Target sold a red Christmas sweater with the slogan “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” The motto on the shirt was meant to be funny. However, Target missed the mark, angering many people on social media who say the retailer was trivializing mental illness. This is an excellent example of a brand using humor in the wrong way.
So, how can you use the power of humor in your marketing strategy without making a faux pas like Target? The answer comes from research that has been conducted by Behavioral scientist Dr. Peter McGraw. McGraw runs the Humor Research Laboratory at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He has been studying the effects of humor on emotion and judgment for years.
Finding Your Funny
At this year’s Content Marketing Conference in Boston, McGraw spoke extensively about a theory that he created to explain why humans consider some things funny. According to the Benign Violation Theory, something is strange when it is absurd or wrong and safe at the same time. So, we tend to think something is funny when it violates our sense of what is appropriate or right and when it is safe.
Have you ever laughed when someone fell down the stairs? Did you wonder why you found the situation funny? Well, you probably laughed because they were not hurt. This is an example of a benign violation. There is a physical violation (falling down the stairs), and the consequences were mild. No one was hurt. However, if the person broke their leg on the way down, your reaction would likely be much different.
Humor fails when it is not benign and when it does not involve a violation. To use humor in your content strategy, it must include both a breach of some sort and be safe at the same time.
Humor That Works
A good example of a brand using a benign violation in marketing is Snickers 2010 Super Bowl Ad. It featured 88-year-old Betty White being tackled during a football game. It involved a violation. However, the consequences were benign. Betty White was not hurt in the commercial.
More examples of benign violations in marketing are the “Mayhem” commercials by Allstate Insurance. In one commercial, a driver gets distracted by an attractive woman and crashes his car. Like the Betty White commercial, no one is seriously injured.
When executed correctly, humor is a powerful tool that can help your brand stand out. To inject a little fun into your content marketing campaigns, hire a freelance writer who specializes in humor writing and discover how much fun can benefit your company’s brand. And please, don’t miss any of the hilarious posts from the WriterAccess Comedy Writer Blog Club–and get a taste of what our comedy writers can do to lighten up your content with a few appropriate-for-your-brand laughs.
Emily M is a former private practice psychotherapist by trade and began her freelance writing career developing psychology and medical-related content. She discovered a passion for writing and has since created a broad range of content, including press releases, product descriptions, blog posts, website content, SEO articles and a number of other articles.